Together with rich history, culture and heritage, the Indian sub-continent is boastful of her oldest and finest sculptures. India owes her first sculptures to the Indus Valley Civilization (200 -2500 BC). The sculptures of this civilization mainly bases on stone, terra cotta and bronze. However, India’s earliest prehistoric sculptures are found in stone, clay, ivory, copper and gold. From the Indus Valley Civilization to the various rulers who ruled India, sculptures depict a history of their own.
The Indian sculptures reflect contemporary social life, while the earliest sculptures depict the foreign influence, as time progressed and new civilizations awakened, different themes were depicted in the sculptures. The Hindu and the Jain religions found their way of expression through the sculptures in their temples the most. It has also been found that both these styles have often overlapped with each other. The height of Jain sculpture is evident in Jain sites like Palitana, Girnar and Mt. Abu. The colossal 60 feet high Jain monolithic statue of Bahubali situated at Shravanabelagola, Karnataka is also a fine example of the quality of Jain sculpture.
The Mauryan Empire is known to have made an extraordinary contribution to the sculptures of the country. In an attempt to spread the Buddhist religion throughout the country, the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka built some 85,000 stupas, all of them having Buddhist teachings inscribed in it, in the 3rd century BC. Two of the most prominent examples of this sculpture are The Great Sanchi Stupa, which is forty-four feet high with carved gateways that illustrate Buddhist legends, and The Ashokan Pillar situated at Sarnath in Madhya Pradesh.
With the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries AD, new trends began to dominate the Indian sculptures. Hindu deities of Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, the Sun God, and Goddess Durga were mainly crafted because during that time, Hinduism became the prime religion of the country. Once such example is the huge sculpture of Lord Shiva incarnated as wild boar and saving mother earth is being featured The Udaigiri Caves in Madhya Pradesh. The twenty-foot high sculpture of Lord Shiva with three heads depicting fierce, feminine, and meditative state in The Elephanta Caves in Maharashtra is one remarkable example of cave architecture of India.
The Khajuraho Temples of the tenth to eleventh century AD, discovered by the archaeologists have sculptures depicting Gods, Goddesses and animals. These sculptures are mainly made of sandstone and symbolize the undying bond between the male and the female. The sculptures at the Kajuraho mainly symbolize sensuousness, eroticism and aesthetics.
The other examples of Indian sculptures, which show the mastery over the art, are the famous Buddhist marvels, The Ajanta and Ellora Temples, The Sun Temple of Konark, The Arjuna’s Penance, the temples of Kanchipuram, Madurai, Rameshwaram, Amravati, Nagarjunakonda and Varanasi. The sculptures of The Ajanta and Ellora Temples are made out of rocks and cliffs and the collection mainly consist of animals and Gods, ancient life paintings and Buddhist fables.
Mathura, the fabled birthplace of Lord Kirshna is also famous for sculptures of the Kushan era. Most of the Indian sculptures are stored in museums. The sculptures of India mainly bases on the carvings of nature, objects, Gods and Goddesses and animals.